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Research Questions

  1. Did P–20 and the demonstration sites develop plans that aligned with best practices in P–3 at the time?
  2. Did P–20 and the demonstration sites execute their plans as intended?
  3. Did P–20 and the demonstration sites develop plans likely to promote long-term effects or sustainability of their P–3 efforts?
  4. Did P–20 and the demonstration sites engage in activities that promoted system change?
  5. Did the P–3 initiative increase the fraction of third-grade children reading at grade level?

The "preschool to third grade," or "P–3," education reform movement has emerged in response to a growing consensus that the U.S. education system needs to find ways to improve student achievement. Proponents of the P–3 approach note that many students enter kindergarten lacking basic skills needed for school success and that positive effects of early interventions often fade out over time. In 2007, Hawai'i's P–20 Partnerships for Education (P–20) launched the state's P–3 initiative, which aimed to have every child in Hawai'i reading at grade level by third grade. RAND's five-year evaluation (2009–2014) examined the implementation of local plans in five demonstration sites and the initiative's state-level work. The authors also analyzed third-grade reading scores on the state reading test. P–20 asked demonstration sites to focus their work in six areas of best P–3 practice at the time, including K–3 curriculum alignment, K–3 teacher assessments, professional development, increased access to and enrollment in early learning programs, improved kindergarten transitions, and support for parent engagement. Implementation closely followed plans. Stakeholders uniformly reported that awareness of the important contribution of early learning to later academic performance increased substantially. State-level work is likely to be sustained because this work produced standards and programs. Some demonstration site work may also be sustained. The third-grade reading score analyses revealed that more years of P–3 exposure raised reading scores modestly but significantly and increased the likelihood of students scoring proficient on the state reading test.

Key Findings

P–20 and Demonstration Sites Developed Plans That Aligned with Best Practices in P–3

  • P–20's requirement that demonstration sites engage in activities in all focus areas, rather than on selected components, played a large role in demonstration sites' work.
  • The framework that P–20 developed to guide P–3 work captured the core of a P–3 approach.

P–20 and Demonstration Sites Executed Most Plans as Intended

  • P–20 and demonstration sites executed majority of activities outlined in their plans.
  • Sites managed to balance commitments to stated plans with adaptations as needed.

P–20 and Demonstration Sites Developed Plans Likely to Promote Long-Term Effects or Sustainability of P–3 Efforts

  • Most statewide and demonstration site work is likely to contribute to long-term change in Hawai'i's P–3 landscape.
  • Awareness of importance of early learning to later academic performance grew substantially.
  • No systematic effort has been made to plan for a next phase of P–3 initiative or to identify funding to continue P–20's activities.

P–20 and Demonstration Sites Engaged in Activities That Promoted System Change

  • Both P–20 and demonstration sites implemented most elements of system change required to effectively promote it.
  • P–20 did not offer incentives or impose consequences for demonstration site performance; incentives played little role in motivating work.

The P–3 Initiative Increased Fraction of Third-Grade Children Reading at Grade Level

  • More years of participating in the P–3 initiative were associated with a modest increase in student reading scores.
  • More years of participating in the P–3 initiative raised the likelihood of scoring proficient on the state reading test.


  • Determine in advance an appropriate balance between standardization and site-specific needs and resources.
  • Consider contracts that specify outcomes rather than activities.
  • Establish measurable outcomes for the work.
  • Explicitly plan for changes in policy and personnel turnover.
  • Consider sustainability from inception.
  • Require explicit agreements between collaborating parties.

This work was sponsored by Hawai'i P–20 Partnerships for Education and conducted jointly in RAND Education and RAND Labor and Population, two units of the RAND Corporation.

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